Interview with: Strike Anywhere on February 14th, 2004

Strike Anywhere have become an extremely influential band in the punk scene in the last couple years, playing with a blend of 80s hardcore and straight punk rock infused with motivated political lyrics with a positive attitude.  Their latest effort, Exit English, continues to show their dedication to making good music and keeping a constructive social agenda.  I had a chance this last weekend to ask guitarist Matt Smith a few questions about their music and their message.
 
PunkBands: What are some of your big musical influences?
Matt Smith: I would say probably…most of the guys in the band grew up listening to older hardcore, like gorilla biscuits, minor threat, dc stuff, all the discord stuff.  a combination of the California 88 sound with the dc sound.  also, like billy bragg, pretty much everyone likes him.  there’s not too much that everyone in the band likes, but billy and dc punk are good overlaps.
 
PB: What was the Richmond scene like when you started?
MS: The Richmond scene comes and goes, it will be really really good for a few years, and then theres kind of a lull for a few years before it gets started again.  when we got started it was kind of a lull, but right before us there was this really good scene with bands touring the country and stuff, like inquisition, Thomas old band, engine down, etc.  I remember sitting around listening to Lifetime with eric and our drummer, and I was like man I want to start something upbeat and positive.  avail too, we all grew up listening to avail going to all the shows and everything.  we came up on the tail end of a strong scene and now its on the upswing again I think.  Richmond is a really small city, so we’d usually have to go to DC for the big tours and such, but there’s always tons of bands from the art school and stuff, lots of quirky eccentric people in it.
 
PB: What’s the creative process like?
MS: When we first started out we just like practiced all the time, we’d come up with a riff or two and figure it out, then Thomas would work through his little book of poetry and stuff and find something to work with it.  Now Thomas lives in Vermont and I live in Baltimore so we have to kind of bring everything in separately.  I have a recording studio in my basement to record local bands and stuff, so we’ll demo stuff and then send it to Thomas.  we find a way to make it work.  its hard when you are not all in the same town, but we find a way I think.
 
PB: Do you feel like anything has changed between this CD and the last?
MS: Umm…I think so, its funny because we never really realized how fast the last album was until after the fact, because now on tour we don’t play the songs as fast.  we hadn’t listened to it forever, and we put it in now and listen and are just like “god its fast.”  we toured for like 2 years basically just playing those songs, and theres such a wear and tear on the body to play songs that fast.  on the new album we were more conscious of being experimental and trying out new tempos and rhythms.  on the new album its definitely more experimental with tempo, maybe a little less traditional punk, but a lot more fun to play live.  we have some songs with different tunings and stuff, which is fun too.  we didn’t want to make the same record over again.  I mean some bands, not to mention names, make the same record over and over again, and they end up with four cds that sound exactly alike.  I think this album is still recognizably us but also pretty unique in its sound.
 
PB: You guys are known for a really energetic and entertaining live show, is there any secret for keeping the energy up on a long tour?
MS: I think it just kind of comes natural for us.  the last tour we did we were over in Europe and everyone got really sick, Thomas lost his voice and I came down pretty ill, and I remember thinking we should take it easy and just go out and play our songs, but we still did the exact same things we always do.  Once you get into the show you almost can’t hold back, the crowd starts getting into it, and its kind of like a feeding frenzy of energy.  we don’t try to do it, it just comes natural I guess.
 
PB: I saw you on MTV2 the other day, has growing popularity changed anything?
MS: It’s weird because we kind of see it and we kind of don’t.  I mean, we made the video because we have a friend who works for FUSE, and he was like if you guys make a video I’ll play it.  so we kind of made it for that and like Europe and Australia who have smaller independent stations that just play videos.  we didn’t expect to see it on mtv2, because so many bands we know who make awesome music and videos don’t get played.  its kind of interesting, as far as popularity its been so gradual that its not something that we just go on tour and notice and say “wow this is crazy.”  It’s been so gradual that its not like just because we got played on there that we are huge now.  every tour has been a little bit more successful than the last.  its cool that we can only do the band now and not work, we can all survive on a small budget.  So yeah, its just been really gradual.
 
PB: Is there a chance for a release on a major label?
MS: To this date we still haven’t talked to any major labels at all.  I don’t think that we ever would.  But I dunno, right now we are comfortable and everything is going good with us and its not to the point where we feel like we’ve outgrown the capacity for the labels we are friends with now.  We are really happy with the way things are going, we are all really grateful for what we have, I don’t think signing to a major label will be the solution for any problem we have because we don’t really have any problems right now.  it’s a weird time for punk right now, so many of our friends bands are on major labels, but I dunno, I’d rather be like with jade tree where we are a priority rather than being a small band on one of the huge ones.  Instead of being such a small priority because they’ve got the new Britney Spears album to release.
 
PB: You guys are pretty unique as a political band because the music and message is
overwhelmingly positive, where do you draw inspiration from?
MS: Well…Thomas is one of the most positive guys you’ll ever meet.  He’s always looking out of the van talking about how beautiful everything is–he’s kind of a hippy.  He has such a positive outlook on life that he kind of just channels it into his lyrics.  Our influences, too, have such a huge impact.  The old bands like the Gorilla Biscuits, Bad Brains, and the old hardcore scene were so concerned with being productive and positive, I think that’s rubbed off. 
 
PB: How would you like to be remembered as a band?  How would you like to influence music and society?
MS: Actually saying something that’s positive and means something is important in music.  I want to be remembered as a band…we get emails from young kids who are really influenced by our music, and its cool because you’ve touched that person and made them question and really changed how they look at things.  I think its cool that there’s something other than singing about girls and mindless pop music.  It’s cool we get to tour around and meet friends and get to offer some inspiration as well.
 
PB: What would the ideal political situation be?  How do you envision getting to that point?
MS: As far as me, the whole meaning of the title of the new album Exit English just kind of means in a very simple way is just like when you tour around…recently we’ve just done a lot of international touring…thinking for yourself and not embracing American ideals worldwide.  everything is just becoming so Americanized, our culture is taking over the world, our language and everything is becoming so international.  something I find very important is the phrase “work to live, don’t live to work,” think for yourself and don’t just embrace what you’re told to embrace.  it sucks that people have to work so much just to support their families.  in Europe businesses close by 6 and have month long vacations and hour lunch breaks.  I don’t see why the American lifestyle has to be so different.  one of the things I’m really passionate about is the living wage movement.  its hard to ever escape the poverty line when you have to work 70 hours to pay for a meager apartment or health care or child care.  Thomas is the guy for the in depth political questions, I’m more of a simple guy.

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